Here’s what the movie has going for it:
1. It’s fun and watchable.
2. It has pretty people in it.
3. Horrible things happen to those pretty people.
4. It takes parts of this book and ignores the rest.
5. It completely subverts the pro-military message of the book into a satire.
6. It has Neil Patrick Harris in it as a psychic.
7. It’s cheesy and violent and tries to make you believe Denise Richards is good at math.
8. While the characters are pretty shallow and the plot thin, it still has both of those things.
The book has no actual characters. Even our narrator, Johnnie Rico, is an empty shell designed solely for guiding us through Heinlein’s military fantasies. There is really no plot. The book follows Johnnie from high school graduation, through enlisting, training, and through a war with aliens they call Bugs, until Rico is totally in love with the military. This might be considered a plot in other books, but as previously mentioned, Rico is an empty shell, so it’s not here.
The book is basically a novel-length polemic about the military and the values Heinlein clearly espouses. Rico encounters situations and people that allow Heinlein to write mostly about other issues, like suffrage, citizenship, juvenile delinquency, corporal and capital punishment, civic duty, etc. The thing about these moments is that, even when I didn’t agree with them, I always found them interesting to read about on an intellectual level. This kind of writing just doesn’t engage me on a deep level. For that I need the stuff novels are supposed to have: characters, characterization, plot, rising tension, conflict, climax, resolution . . . all that jazz.
I can see why this book is considered so influential, but it’s just not for me. (It did inspire me to rewatch the film, however, and a good time was had by all.)
[2.5 stars, rounded up]